We heard that traffic can get very heavy on the morning of a scheduled launch, so we woke up around 3:30am. I would not call myself a morning person, so waking up that early takes quite the effort. I survived. There was no way that we wanted to miss NASA's last scheduled shuttle launch, so we gave ourselves plenty of time to arrive in Titusville, park the car, and find a seat to watch the launch. Whew.
We left for Titusville, Florida when the sky was still inky black. There was such an air of excitement the morning of the launch. My husband even signed up to receive text message updates from NASA! Space shuttle Endeavor experienced seemingly endless delays in April, so we had some reservations about actually seeing Atlantis launch into outer space. Space shuttle Atlantis was given a 30% chance of launching, and that was good enough for us to drive all the way over to the Space Coast of Florida. Good thing that we made the trip or we would have missed the on time departure of Atlantis!
Traffic flowed fairly easily, but we did run into heavy traffic, due to an accident, once we were a few miles from Titusville. A map printed at home and a tiny detour took us away from the traffic jam and quickly into town. Upon arriving in Titusville, we came across a parking free-for-all! Cars were parked on curbs, miles down both sides of streets, and almost anywhere that did not have a 'no parking' sign. Since it was free, we opted for the curb parking instead of a pay lot. I'm not sure the town could have ticketed every car there. That would have been cold-hearted and not to mention time consuming; I heard there were about 750k people viewing the Atlantis shuttle launch! I find it incredible that we were only two of those nearly one million spectators.
Once we parked our car, we searched for a restroom and possibly a bite to eat. Unfortunately, the other 749,998 people in attendance had the same idea. The local McDonald's had approximately 147.3 people inside waiting for food and a bathroom break. I overheard a man telling a woman near me that the park next door had restrooms with a shorter line, so we hightailed it to the park. Thankfully the park had toilets that flushed, and the line was short in comparison to the line at McDonald's. After finding a bathroom with a line shorter than 30 minutes, I was feeling really good about actually seeing the shuttle launch. It was as if fate was on our side at that point!
Some people had arrived the night before to claim the 'good seats' for the shuttle launch. Since Titusville is about 12 miles from the launch site, everything at that point seems like a pretty good spot to watch. I told my husband that watching a shuttle launch was like attending a "sporting event for outer space geeks". After looking for space on a very crowded pier, we decided that a park down the road looked like a better bet. We found the perfect little spot to set up our chairs, and no one could sit directly in front of us due to a retention pond in front of us. Thankfully my husband found that perfect spot, and it ended up being a great place to watch space shuttle Atlantis rocket towards outer space!
Clouds above us threatened a launch delay. Everyone had their cameras, tripods, video recorders, telescopes, and binoculars ready. Sometimes people would loudly announce what they had just heard on their radio. It was beginning to sound like the weather was no longer a threat.
The countdown to launch time continued.
Then suddenly, we started hearing the crowd counting down
"10, 9, 8... 7, 6, 5, 4... 3, 2, 1... and then nothing."
I began to wonder "had something gone wrong?".
Why was the shuttle still on its launch pad?
Apparently nothing was wrong but some people had been given incorrect information.
Finally we heard a fairly confident sounding countdown.
Still nothing happened when the crowd yelled 'lift off!'.
Radio delays had made the timing slightly off.
Before we knew it, there were flames and steam shooting out from below the shuttle!
* these pictures were taken with our Canon Powershot
they may appear slightly grainy
* Unfortunately, I don't have a zoom lens for my my dSLR.
The Powershot takes decent shots though. (:
Here's a video of the launch!
Here's a video of the launch!
My husband and I both had the chills when Atlantis finally lifted off from the launch pad. It was really amazing seeing how quickly those astronauts were taken from this earth and into the clouds. They were taken to a place that very few of us will ever experience in this life. Incredible.
I still find it amazing that humans created a shuttle that can break through the atmosphere and take us to outer space. It's almost hard to believe that it's real. Things like this only happen in movies, right?!
Have you ever seen a shuttle launch in person?
What did you think?